Satish Kumar’s YOU ARE therefore I AM

There are some books you don’t want to end and when they do, a gnawing emptiness ensues like saying a final good-bye to a cherished friend. Satish Kumar’s YOU ARE therefore I AM is one of them.

I discovered Kumar serendipity fashion, searching for Sufi poets like Rumi, subsequently chancing upon an interview with him that led me to this book, one of the most observant, sensitive, life-changing books I’ve encountered across the years. In brief, a book for discerning readers open to being inspired.

You’ll find few reviews of this book. I tried Google, and even the New York Review of Books, but no Kumar.

Kumar deserves a wider audience. He’s written ten books, received numerous literary awards, and several honorary doctorates. With E. F. Schumacher (Small is Beautiful), he founded Schumacher College, which offers master degree ecology curricula. For many years, he was editor of Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine. Now 85, he continues to write and lecture widely.

YOU ARE therefore I AM is largely autobiographical, though he’s written a more definitive version, No Destination: The Journey of a Pilgrim ( 2014, Green Books).

Reared in India, we learn early on of his mother’s defining influence as a Jainist devoted to non-violence, leading to his becoming a Jainist monk at age nine. He would leave nine years later as a disciple of Gandhi’s teachings. He had come to believe that we stem evil not through retreat into monasteries, but with peaceful activism, promoting human and natural reconciliation.

The Jains, however, were and remain the salient source for his adoption of non-violent protest, as they also were for Mahatma Gandhi who would, in turn, influence Martin Luther King.

Kumar is famous for his peace walks in 1962 with friend E. P. . Menton to nuclear capitals Moscow, Paris, London and Washington, D.C. Remarkably, they made their 8000 mile journey without money. In England, he would meet Bertrand Russell and in America, Martin Luther King.

It was Gandhi protege Vinoba Bhave’s Talks on the Gita, oral lectures composed during Bhave’s imprisonment by the British and later written down by a fellow prisoner, that led to Kumar’s embrace of nature, society, and self as the trinity of activism needful for fostering peace within ourselves, between nations, and reconciliation with the Earth we have plundered: “THIS TRINITY OF nourishing nature, society and self gave me much food for thought. Ever since that time they have remained with me and have become the ground of my thinking and action.”

Chapter 13 details Kumar’s meeting Krishnamurti, the renowned Indian sage. Krishnamurti had rebelled against religious, political, and philosophical orthodoxy: “Truth cannot be realised through any creed, any dogma, any philosophical knowledge, any psychological technique, any ideology, any ritual or any theological system.”  

Kumar agrees:

Now we live in an age of post-religious spirituality. The call of our time is to be a good human being rather than to be Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Christian. We don’t have to be a special kind of person to go on the adventurous journey of the spirit. Every one of us is capable of making the hero’s journey and reaching the holy grail.

Chapter 16 recounts his meeting Martin Luther King. King underscored that non-violence must not exclude justice for the disenfranchised, most often, the world’s poor and non-white. “True peace is not merely the absence of war. It is the presence of justice, equity and a non-violent social order. Non-violence is a moral force which can transform individuals and societies and bring peace.”

In the book’s late chapters, Kumar gives highlights of his return visit to his native India in 2000, fascinating in its portraiture of modern India and betrayal of Gandhi’s advocacy of land reform, self-sufficient village craft industries, and rejection of corporate interests and free trade.

Harvesting our needs, not our wants, living simply in touch with our fellows and observing the sanctity of all life, this was Gandhi’s message to capitalism motivated by greed, centered on consumption and continuous growth, fostering environmental violence economic marginalization and social injustice. This is a Gandhi unknown to most Westerners.

The final two chapters summarize Kumar’s worldview. Eloquent, timely, and wise, I found myself inspired, yet sad, sad in discovering him so late in my life’s journey.

It’s here he scorns the onset of Cartesian dualism with its aggrandizement of Self, voiding the relational. There followed Newtonian physics, treating the world as machine, Darwinism with its survival of the fittest, and depth psychology with its emphasis on ego:

These theories are, in my view, at the root of the ecological, social and spiritual crisis of our time. The dualistic world-view gives the illusion that I exist independently of the Other….’To be is to inter-be.’ We cannot be by ourselves alone. This means our being is only possible because of other beings. We are not individual beings; we are world beings.

Dualism, unfortunately, has also fostered speciesism, alienating us from Nature: “The violence to non-human species often remains unnoticed. This causes grave harm to animals, forests and wildlife of all kinds. This attitude of human superiority is the foundation of the culture of violence. The dualistic mindset which begins with controlling nature, goes on to control people.”

I’ve read many fine books over the years, some life-changing.  Satish Kumar’s You Are, therefore, I Am takes its place among them, deserving yearly re-reading, lest we forget our mutual dependency and its requisite obligations.

Kumar reminds us in his close that observing the relational in every consideration is vital “for our existence and experience, for our happiness and health, for our nutrition and nourishment, we depend on the Earth. We depend on the love of the beloved, the beauty of the beautiful and the goodness of the good. Embracing vulnerability and humility, let us declare our utter dependence on the Earth, and on each other: You are, therefore I am.”


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